[caption id="attachment_58027" align="alignright" width="448" caption="A fleet of 12 "diesel multiple unit" railcars are under construction for the SMART commuter rail system"][/caption]

In what officials are calling a milestone, an Illinois factory configured to construct 12 railcars for the planned Sonoma Marian Area Rail Transit system officially opened its doors today, with the first set of railcars expected to arrive in the North Bay for testing by the third quarter of 2013.

The cars, to be manufactured in six two-car sets, will be built at a cost of $39.9 million, according to SMART. The factory, run by Sumitomo of America/Nippon Sharyo USA, is projected to create 250 direct jobs.

The factory will also construct 12 similar cars for Canadian rail agency Metrolinx, which paid SMART $750,000 to purchase those units through SMART’s order. SMART said that the winning bid was negotiated at a savings of $23 million below expected cost.

By manufacturing the cars domestically, SMART maintained the requirements necessary to receive federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s “Buy America” provision.

The rail cars, known as diesel multiple units, are considered state-of-the-art in terms of fuel efficiency, crash safety, noise levels, emissions and cost, according to SMART.

Construction continues on the initial operating segment for the passenger rail system between Sonoma and Marin counties. With completion expected in 2015--16, the initial segment will span from Santa Rosa to San Rafael and be expanded to Larkspur in Marin and Cloverdale in Sonoma County as funding is made available.

This article has been corrected to reflect the delivery volume of the railcars.